The Middy in Glorious Technicolor

July 14, 2020

We have recently acquired some rare colour photos of the MSLR, dating back to 1909! See the railway as it really appeared back in the day in living colour.

This is where we have to confess that we’ve cheated a bit here: in our extensive archives we only have five genuine colour images from the time the Middy was operating, and they all date from 1952. However, there are some wonderful websites available which automatically colourise black & white photos, and we’ve used two of them (colourise.sg and algorithmia) to generate the pictures reproduced below.

Not surprisingly, this process has some limitations and doesn’t always give very good results (see the last picture below). But it can be pretty effective, especially when compared to the alternative of manual colouring using a package such as Photoshop, which is very time-consuming and expensive if you pay for an expert to do it. The automatic software is quite effective at colouring human flesh, but obviously has no way of telling (for example) what livery should be applied to a locomotive.

The most successful results are those where the colouring is quite subtle. You really only notice how effective it is when you compare to the original black & white image, as in the first pair of pictures below, where I think the colourising process has really brought the picture to life.

Click on any of the pictures below to view the full image.

Winners of a Schools essay competition at Laxfield, 1909 (colourised)

To promote the start of passenger services in late 1908, the railway ran a competition for local school children, with prizes of 5 shillings for the best essays on the subject of the MSLR. Here are some of the lucky winners beside loco no. 3 at Laxfield in 1909. Photo by Harry Webb of Stradbroke, courtesy of Mr John Thorpe.

Winners of a Schools essay competition at Laxfield, 1909 (original)

And for comparison, here is the original black & white image.

Station staff at Mendlesham in the 1920s

On the left is Porter in Charge Leonard Stannard: centre is the Gatekeeper at Stelphs crossing Leslie Forster: right is Arthur Osborne, the Gatekeeper at Old Farm. Despite his small stature, Leslie Forster was about 20 years old when this picture was taken. Photo courtesy of Mendlesham Local History Group.

Albert Kingsbury & Ernie Watts, Stradbroke, 1920s.

Station Master Albert Kingsbury and Porter Ernie (or Fred) Watts taking a break at Stradbroke station, probably in the late 1920s. Photo courtesy of G Newstead.

Dot Seaman, January 1949

Dorothy (“Dot”) Seaman (nee Last) on duty in the office at Brockford Station. She was Porter in Charge, whose duties covered everything on the station, including paperwork, ticket selling, opening the level crossing gates, and tending the award-winning gardens. Published in the Suffolk Chronicle & Mercury, January 1949.

Olive Pleasance, Crossing Keeper at Roses Road around 1950, with daughter Pamela

Permanent Way labourer Sidney Pleasance lived in the railway cottage at Roses Road level crossing, and as was traditional his wife Olive operated the gates when required by the infrequent train service. Sidney had grown up in the same cottage when his mother Emily worked the gates. Photo courtesy of J. Sadler.

MSLR staff at Laxfield, July 1952 (a)

Posing at Laxfield station on 19th July 1952 beside J15 class locomotive no. 65467, (L-R): shed labourer and engine cleaner Harry Howlett, Guard Horrie Bloom, Driver Joe Skinner and Fireman Jack Law. Photo by A. Forsyth, courtesy of Rev D Pitcher.

MSLR staff at Laxfield, July 1952 (b)

(L-R) Guard Willis Keable and Porter Frank Hubbard join Fireman Ronnie Thompson and Driver Ernie Baker on the footplate of their J15 loco, pictured at Laxfield on 23rd July 1952. Photo by R.E. Vincent.

School children and teachers at Stradbroke station, July 1952

On Friday 25th July 1952, Stradbroke school was closed so that everyone could take a ride on the railway, which closed the next day. Photo courtesy of Mrs M Bromfield.

What happens when colourising goes wrong…

Unfortunately the automatic colourising process isn’t always completely successful, as illustrated by this classic picture from the early 1920s showing the loco department staff at Laxfield. Photo by C. Nicholls, from the Geoff Rice collection.

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